SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Turley family has milked Holstein cows on their southern Illinois farm for more than 100 years.
“Our farm was founded in 1910, and every morning and every night since 1910, we’ve milked registered Holstein cows on our farm,” said Michael Turley, owner of Rolling Lawns Farm. “In January when there’s an ice storm, we’re milking cows.”
The farm located near Greenville milks 120 cows twice a day in a double six herringbone parlor. And like many other dairy farmers in Illinois, the Turleys have been dealing with challenges on their farm.
“Illinois is ranked 22nd in the country for dairy production, and there are now 84,000 cows in Illinois,” said the dairyman during a presentation at the Let’s Talk Dairy Workshop hosted by the St. Louis District Dairy Council. “Last year at this time, there were 93,000 cows, so we’re off 10%.”
Illinois is not doing real well when it comes to the dairy industry, Turley said.
“That’s ironic because one of the most successful cooperatives in the U.S. is Prairie Farms in Illinois,” he said. “Our family was part of that co-op for 40 years, and it was a great partnership.”
Turley illustrated the dairy industry situation by showing the price for a gallon of milk in a retail store at $1.08 compared to a gallon of water in the same store for $1.30.
“Our product is being suppressed value-wise,” he said. “There are six to seven dairy farmers a day going out of business.
“We were going to be one of those statistics if I didn’t do something about it,” the fourth-generation farmer said. “All the sweat equity my great grandfather, my grandfather and my dad and mo put into this farm, I couldn’t let it go.”
As a result, the family decided to build their own Grade A fluid milk processing plant.
“We had to leave Prairie Farms to do it which was a big risk/reward decision to make because the stability that Prairie Farms offered,” Turley said.
“There’s about 60 Grade A fluid milk processing plants in the U.S. owned by small farms, and there’s lots of cheese makers and farms that make other products,” he said.
For the processing plant, the Turleys purchased a vacant building in Greenville that was only 9 years old.
“It is seven miles from our farm, and it’s in a really good location,” the dairyman said. “It has 25,000 square feet, which is plenty of room for our processing plant and to do some other fun stuff.”
Milk flowed into bottles for the first time at the facility on May 31, 2018.
“It is not easy to visit a milk processing facility, so we wanted to build a plant you could visit, so we have all kinds of viewing windows,” Turley explained.
“We have consumers, chefs and coffee shop owners come into our space and we share our story. We’re proud of what we do, and we love to share it.”
The plant features a café and conference area that already has been used for meetings and tours for school groups.
“It’s fun when we can show first graders the farm and then the fluid milk we’re selling,” Turley said.
Turley is marketing products produced at the plant in about a 75-mile radius with the majority going to the St. Louis area.
“The product most popular right now is our heavy cream,” he said. “For dairy, this is the one the chefs measure your products on.”
Chefs like to visit Rolling Lawns Farm to learn more about the operation.
“The chef at the Vicia has been to our farm three times to visit,” Turley said. “A group of them from the restaurant came to the farm to see the cows, and all 12 of them each took a turn at milking a cow. It was one of the best days of our year.”
The dairyman is committed to producing premium dairy products at his processing plant.
“The milk produced by the cows on Sunday night is hauled to the plant at 7:30 a.m. on Monday and it is processed,” he said. “In five hours, it is chilled, bottled and ready to go.
“We pasteurize our heavy cream low and slow,” he said. “That’s why the chefs love it — the whip in it is insane.”
For more information about the St. Louis District Dairy Council, go to www.stldairycouncil.org.